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Don’t expect much out of NBA owners, players meeting

Jun 21, 2011, 8:13 AM EST

David Stern

David Stern tried after last week’s bargaining session to set Tuesday up as the big key day — it is after this session we’ll know if there will be a lockout.

But even that was Stern posturing, using some gamesmanship to put the pressure on the players. Which says everything about where we are in the negotiations. Don’t expect a major breakthrough Tuesday when owners and players meet in New York. Expect pessimism.

Stern put the pressure on the players after last week by saying that the owners made a give back — they backed off their demand for non-guaranteed contracts — and that now it is the players’ turn. He said whatever concession the players made would determine if they were on track to avoid a lockout.

But that was not a real concession by the owners last week at all — they players already have guaranteed contracts. The owners made a new demand for non-guaranteed contracts than took it off the table — things have not changed. The players refuse to see no change as a concession.

Reports have both sides close to $500 million apart right now. And there is a split in the owners, some want to drive a hard bargain, as David Aldridge explained well at NBA.com.

This new generation of NBA owners, many of whom are leveraged up to their ears and who have tens of millions of annual debt service to pay before they pay a single coach or player their gargantuan salaries, has among its ranks those who are fully ready to sacrifice all of next season if it means a sea change in the league’s financial system. The new generation didn’t pay $1 million for his franchise (like the late Abe Pollin, who bought the Baltimore Bullets in 1964), or $6 million (the late Bill Davidson, who bought the Pistons in 1974). Having been in the game for decades, the old guard was more likely to be willing to cut a deal….

“The old guys, they’d made a lot of money already,” said a longtime and former senior executive of an NBA team who’s been involved in previous collective bargaining sessions with the players. (Like just about everyone quoted in this piece, he obviously cannot be named.). Now you have guys saying ‘I’m losing money, and I have to find a way to make this team that I bought for $350 million worth $500 million.’ “

The players are not going to totally cave. There needs to be a middle ground.

Here is the one thing to really watch in post-meeting comments from both sides — do they talk about movement on Basketball Related Income (BRI). That is the big number, and currently 57 percent goes to the players. BRI is the money from ticket sales, national television contracts, local television contracts, parking, concessions, a piece of luxury boxes, and so on. Basically everything.

That is the number that matters. Everything else — like a hard cap or soft cap — serves the BRI. Until the two sides decide how the pie is split, not much else matters. That and the hard cap are the keys.

Personally, I’d like them to use Aldridge’s suggestions as a jumping off point to speed up discussions (a 50/50 BRI split, a soft cap but with far few exceptions, more revenue sharing between owners, ad more). Not going to happen, but it would at least move things along.

Instead, we are headed for a lockout and the only question is how long it will last.

  1. tashkalucy - Jun 21, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    There will be no season in 2011-12.

    The majority of the owners are tired of the players, their agents and their sponsers running the league.

    The Big 3 Egos, the never ending Lebron James circus, Worldwide Wes along with Leon Rose and CCA, and players deciding what all-star players they’re going to play with in what markets….how do at least half the owners in towns like Portland, Sacramento, Phoenix, etc. sell the NBA to their fans. ESPN and Nike culd care less, hey only televise the cherry games and they want cherry matchups. The agents, players and sponsors want the ESPN pub because it makes money for them. Like MLB, the majority of the markets will soon be feeders to he glamour markets, with the majority of the cities being a place to get NBA experience and have the players build a name for themselves. Face it, what Big 3 are going to conspire to play in Milwaukee, Utah or Minnesota?

    When professional sports teams cannot keep their stars, they will never get loyalty out of their fans. Sue, the fans will be there when the team is winning, but they’ll stay home as soon as the winning stops. And when their teams season is over, the fans switch off the TV and could care less abut the playoffs. MLB has been like this for decades. The NBA was like this, changed it in the 90’s, but is headed straight back unless the owners take control here.

    The NFL is the only rue national sport in America. The deeper the playoffs go the higher the TV ratings. If the locals team is out of it, fans select another team (or teams) to root for. (As I have been saying for a year) The NBA is at a crossroads here — it becomes like MLB or it becomes like the NFL…..where all teams have a chance and a championship between teams in Pittsburgh and Green Bay is not only possible, but fans around the country love it.

    I have no idea how the lockout will turn out. But I can tell you that a league will not survive when the only thing it has to sell is for fans to turn in and root against Lebron James. This is WWF stuff, and while that stuff has an audience, it is hardly a national one full of affluent people willing to spend time and money on it. It’s like rooting against the Red Sox and Yankees……at some point fans realize that their team can only compete once every 5 years, so they’ll keep an eye o things and show up when it’s their year.

  2. craigw24 - Jun 21, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    I’m not a big union guy, but there has to be at least one comment representing the players side of this.

    The owners think it is their right to make huge profits on their sports related investments without exercising the kind of discipline that other regulated businesses in our country require. This is not a new situation. It happens whenever there is some sort of monopoly in existence. Go back to the 19th century and you will see the rise of the union movement in reaction to the actions of the “robber barons” – an example of what happens when capitalism is unfettered by competition or restrictions.

    In today’s world the players certainly need to give back some of the gains they have made over the years, but the owners are mostly in a stew of their own making and the players really don’t have anything to do with it. They are the ones who allowed both a limited revenue sharing arrangement whereby the large market teams have huge additional revenue streams and the small markets are unable to compete and they also do not have much restraint against owners like Donald Sterling, who milk their franchise for a profit and have absolutely no respect for contracts or winning and are really not interested in their customers. These situations have to do with how the NBA organizes itself and not with any demand by the players.

    Until the NBA owners get their own house in order they will not be in a position where they can honestly demand real change from the players. The situation now is that 30 multibillion dollar businesses are working together and want to change the rules for their employees – rules they have previously agreed to. Also, they feel their pockets are deeper than those of their employees so they just have to wait it out and these ‘less experienced’ businessmen will have no choice but to give in to most of their demands.

    Don’t give me this ‘independent contractor’ argument about the players. If that were true all the players would automatically have ‘free agent’ rights that would have to be bargained away in each CBA negotiated. Of course this would be totally chaotic for an organized sport, but, in return, the players have to be treated like an organized union and not a collection of individuals.

    The fact that the owners really want contracts that can be cancelled annually – like the NFL – shows just how much control they feel they need, to curb their own competitive appetites and poor business sense. I would be for some kind of injury adjustments, but if you look at the health program for a violent sport like football, you can see where management would like to go to reduce their responsibility for their ‘employees’ and to reduce the risk of their own bad judgement.

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